Open letter to WA politicians and parents

11 08 2011

Good Morning,

This is an open letter to all politicians in Western Australia, schools and parents from the Western Australian School Library Association (WASLA).

You may not be aware that one of the final stages in the devolution of education in this state has now occurred. All resourcing and support for government schools and their libraries is now almost totally devolved to the school level. DET used to provide some centralised support through a Curriculum Materials Information Service, but this is being decommissioned. DET is also shifting responsibility for managing libraries, selecting resources and caring for students to unqualified personnel – level 1/2 Library Officers and Library Technicians. A new initiative of DET, Professional Institute of Learning, is to provide PD to LOs and LTs in these TL tasks. These library personnel are being asked to take on professional duties such as teaching and supervision and the duty of care for students, plus the management duties, of a qualified teacher librarian.

WASLA wants to alert all politicians to the changes currently occurring, largely by stealth, since there has been no announcement as far as the Association is aware.

What does this mean for schools and education in WA?

.  For teachers and students the newly built school libraries are not staffed by teacher librarians (TLs). School library resources may not reflect best selection criteria to meet the needs of all students and be relevant to the curriculum (particularly the Australian curriculum with particular resource requirements). The qualified teacher librarian is trained to provide a wide range of resources across all reading, cognitive levels and formats to support learning across all curriculum areas and all children in the school.

.  The gap between the independent and government schools has now widened considerably. Independent school libraries have been shown in a 2007 survey (Combes, B, Australian School Libraries Research Project, 2008) to have much better staffing models than government schools. We now have a 2-tiered education system in WA – one for the ‘haves’ and one for the ‘have-nots’, one with several TLs/librarians, and one with Google.

.  Without teacher librarians there will be no one in schools whose specific role is to support literacy and information literacy. Our 15 year olds have some of the lowest literacy NAPLAN scores in Australia. Adult literacy levels in Australia also rank below other countries (Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey, 2006). Over 40 years of international research, including the OECD PISA Report in 2002, indicate that professionally staffed libraries make a significant difference to academic achievement and literacy levels, even overcoming economic disadvantage. ACER research as far back as 1996, Mapping Literacy Achievement, indicated that higher levels of student English literacy achievement are associated with use of the library. 2012 is the National Year of Reading – who will be actioning this initiative in WA government schools?

.   The Federal Inquiry into School Libraries and Teacher Librarians has just released its report. We await the government’s response. Meanwhile, NSW already staffs a TL in every school but the smallest. At the Federal Government Inquiry session held in Perth last year DET’s response was to shift responsibility for staffing back to the school level. Education in WA is moving forward according to an outdated devolution agenda first set during the Burke tenure of government in the 1980s.

.  With the transfer of DET section Curriculum Materials Information Service out of the department of education, and with the termination of their book reviewing services and resources database, there is virtually no resource support for WA schools. This will impact significantly on smaller rural/remote area schools which do not have trained personnel or in some cases have libraries that are so poorly resourced that curriculum programs are not supported at all (Australian School Library Research project, 2008). For teachers in these schools the lack of support has significant ramifications and will impact even further on the attrition rate of new teachers (up to 30%).

Devolution of education as first promulgated by the Burke Government was always part of the era of economic rationalism and the transition of an essential public service (education) to a business model. Since staffing is now also controlled at the school level, the demise of libraries and an information specialist (TL) in schools is almost complete.  This comes at a time when information access and the skills to be able to manage and use information are major issues for students entering tertiary study and the workforce. Information overload is the single greatest issue for people trying to cope in today’s society.

WASLA would like the politicians of WA to respond to the general public and explain why we have a 2-tiered education system in WA, why education in WA appears to be out-of-step with other Australian states and current federal government initiatives, and why the state government is not taking action to ensure equal opportunities in education for all children across Western Australia.

Yours sincerely

Barbara Combes,

President WA Operations, for WASLA, http://www.wasla.asn.au/

Email: bcombes@ecu.edu.au

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